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March 8th, 2012 @ 10:47 pm by Kevin
I was just watching Andrew Stanton’s TED talk (highly recommended, BTW), during which he noted that children’s entertainer Mr. Rogers used to carry the following quote in his wallet: “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love if you heard their story.”
For many people, I’m sure this is difficult to accept. Because if you’ve ever been victimized, the last thing you want to hear is an explanation of why the person did what he did. All you want to do is find the bastard and make him pay.
For example, if a serial killer abducted one of my daughters, tortured her, raped her and then tossed her body into a ditch, I don’t know what I’d do. But I don’t think any father is immune to revenge fantasies along the lines of what the Bear did to the German soldier in Inglourious Basterds.
As understandable as that reaction would be, once we move beyond the raw emotion of such experiences, we have to admit that one of the reasons we’re so appalled by evil–and why we often find it so incomprehensible–is our lack of perspective.
Think about it: By the time we encounter someone like a serial killer, he’s at or very near to the end of his story. So it seems as if his evil acts simply appeared out of the blue. That’s why we tend to label such people as madmen or psychopaths. How else can we explain their behavior?
But what if we could go back to the beginning of his story, to meet him when he was a little boy? A boy born into a dysfunctional family that barely had enough resources to survive, let alone properly diagnose certain psychological tendencies. A family that potentially made those tendencies worse through neglect and abuse.
Armed with this understanding–the realization that his evil acts weren’t random occurrences or the product of an innately evil nature but the outcome of a long line of situations and choices, many of which were beyond his control–could I find it in my heart to love the serial killer then? Maybe that’s still asking too much. But could I at least bring myself to pity him, to feel empathy toward him?
Perhaps, but that still wouldn’t change my situation. My daughter would still be dead, and I would never be able to enjoy another sunny day that wouldn’t be at least partially clouded by her loss. So I don’t think I could ever truly let things go.
Once again though, my problem would be one of perspective. As a Christian, I’m supposed to believe in something called the Resurrection. It’s right at the center of our faith. This is the Good News of which the apostles preached. Many Christians today define the Gospel as, “Good News! You don’t have to go to hell when you die!” But if you listen to the way the message is actually preached throughout the book of Acts, it’s more along the lines of “Good News! Death is not the end!” Jesus defeated death and sin on the cross, and he proved it by coming back from the dead. The good news is, we can all hope to do the same:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)
So let me change the parameters of the question once again: What if I could go back to the beginning of the serial killer’s story and learn about the situations and choices that led to his evil acts? What if everything the serial killer took way from my daughter and me could be restored? And what if I could make the serial killer understand the true gravity of his crimes against us, to the point where he falls to his knees in grief, utterly desperate for our forgiveness. Could I find it in my heart to love him then? Or would I still want to “make the bastard pay”?
The way I see it, a great many people’s theology of hell would insist that he still be made to pay. Forever. Is that really what God is like?
If so, perhaps he’s never watched Mr. Rogers…